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BCC and 'Undo Send' in Gmail

posted 1 Dec 2015, 05:19 by Andrew at Lycom   [ updated 16 Dec 2015, 01:33 ]
It's interesting to observe how people neglect the use of BCC in emails.

In case you don't know, BCC is a legacy of typewriter days:

Blind carbon copy (abbreviated Bcc:) allows the sender of a message to conceal the person entered in the Bcc: field from the other recipients. This concept originally applied to paper correspondence and now also applies to email *

In email, it's a quick-n-dirty way of hiding recipient addresses - so to send out to a group:
  • send the email TO: yourself
  • add BCC: the list of addresses you want to get the email (in Gmail you can create a 'group' contact list and use that)
  • in your message / subject line, put something that acknowledges who the email is going to 'Hi everyone, you're getting this email beacause ...' etc
  • ALWAYS double check you are using BCC (not CC) and that your message makes sense before sending it ...
I often get emails from organisations who send out to a whole list of email addresses - either in the TO: or CC: field. Why is this bad?
  • it exposes the personal email addresses of everyone (did they ask for that? probably not)

  • anyone can do 'Reply-to-all' and send to everyone referenced in the TO: and CC: fields - this can lead to embarrassing incidents when people make personal or indiscreet comments in replies which then go out to the whole list, not to mention problems if your PC gets attacked by a virus and sends out malicious packages to everyone ...
If you're dealing with lists of email addresses, sometimes it's useful to use a mailing list manager - I have often used the fabulous mailman program on Linux / Unix but something like mailchimp is a great hosted alternative.

A good tip in Gmail is to not put the BCC list into the email until you have actually finished composing and proof-reading the draft - it helps to prevent you accidentally sending before you are ready.

Finally, if you use Gmail - there is something that could still save you: the Gmail Labs 'undo send' feature has now made it into the core Gmail product - see here for details.  It imposes a small delay of up to 30 seconds in sending emails, which allows you to 'undo' a sent mail (i.e. cancel sending before it leaves the Gmail SMTP servers). This can save your blushes if you accidentally send to a list before you are ready... Anyone who has worked as an MS Exchange Server administrator will tell you countless tales of emergency helpdesk calls to "recall send" a sensitive / embarrassing email before it hit too many people's corporate inboxes ...

Unfortunately, the Gmail Labs 'Mail Goggles' app appears to have been discontinued - it saved many an IT admin from sending that email to their boss and the whole company telling them what they think when late at night and ... er ... tired and emotional. Remember - unlike Mail Goggles you only have 30 seconds with undo send to retrieve your career from the mail bin!